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Archive for May, 2012

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This was sent to me by a friend as an unattributed email attachment. I regret I don’t know who wrote it, because I would love to thank them for shedding light on such a delightfully arcane subject.

I had a neighbour who had bought a new pickup. I got up very early one Sunday and saw that someone had spray painted red all around the sides of this beige truck. 

I went over, and told him the bad news. He was very upset and was trying to figure out what to do, probably nothing until Monday morning, since nothing was open. Another neighbour came out and told him to get his WD-40 and clean it off. It removed the unwanted paint beautifully and did not harm his paint job that was on the truck. I’m impressed!

WD-40 stands for ‘Water Displacement #40’ The product began from a search for a rust preventative solvent and degreaser to protect missile parts.

WD-40 was created in 1953 by three technicians at the San Diego Rocket Chemical Company. Its name comes from the project that was to find a ‘water displacement’ compound. They were successful with the 40th formulation, thus WD-40. The Convair Company bought it in bulk to protect their atlas missile parts.

Ken East (one of the original founders) says there is nothing in WD-40 that would hurt you. When you read the ‘shower door’ part, try it. It’s the first thing that has ever cleaned that spotty shower door. If yours is plastic, it works just as well on that as on glass.

It’s a miracle! Then try it on your stove top … Voila! It’s now shinier than it’s ever been. You’ll be amazed.

Here are some other uses:

1. Protects silver from tarnishing.

2. Removes road tar and grime from cars.

3. Cleans and lubricates guitar strings.

4. Gives floors that ‘just-waxed’ sheen without making them slippery.

5. Keeps flies off cows.

6. Restores and cleans chalkboards.

7. Removes lipstick stains.

8. Loosens stubborn zippers.

9. Untangles jewellery chains.

10. Removes stains from stainless steel sinks.

11. Removes dirt and grime from the barbecue grill.

12. Keeps ceramic/terra cotta garden pots from oxidising.

13. Removes tomato stains from clothing.

14. Keeps glass shower doors free of water spots.

15. Camouflages scratches in ceramic and marble floors.

16. Keeps scissors working smoothly.

17. Lubricates noisy door hinges on vehicles and doors in homes.

18. It removes black scuff marks from the kitchen floor! Use WD-40 for those nasty tar and scuff marks on flooring. It doesn’t seem to harm the finish and you won’t have to scrub nearly as hard to get them off. Just remember to open some windows if you have a lot of marks.

19. Bug guts will eat away the finish on your car if not removed quickly! Use WD-40!

20. Gives a children’s playground gym slide a shine for a super fast slide.

21. Lubricates gear shift and mower deck lever for ease of handling on riding mowers.

22. Rids kids’ rocking chairs and swings of squeaky noises.

23. Lubricates tracks in sticking home windows and makes them easier to open.

24. Spraying an umbrella stem makes it easier to open and close.

25. Restores and cleans padded leather dashboards in vehicles, as well as vinyl bumpers.

26. Restores and cleans roof racks on vehicles.

27. Lubricates and stops squeaks in electric fans

28. Lubricates wheel sprockets on tricycles, wagons, and bicycles for easy handling.

29. Lubricates fan belts on washers and dryers and keeps them running smoothly.

30. Keeps rust from forming on saws and saw blades, and other tools.

31. Removes splattered grease on stove.

32. Keeps bathroom mirror from fogging.

33. Lubricates prosthetic limbs.

34. Keeps pigeons off the balcony (they hate the smell).

35. Removes all traces of duct tape.

36. Folks even spray it on their arms, hands, and knees to relieve arthritis pain.

37. Florida’s favourite use: ‘cleans and removes love bugs from grills and bumpers.’

38. The favourite use in the state of New York: WD-40 protects the Statue of Liberty from the elements.

39. WD-40 attracts fish. Spray a little on live bait or lures and you will be catching the big one in no time. Also, it’s a lot cheaper than the chemical attractants that are made for just that purpose. Keep in mind though, using some chemical laced baits or lures for fishing are not allowed in some states.

40. Use it for fire ant bites. It takes the sting away immediately and stops the itch.

41. WD-40 is great for removing crayon from walls. Spray on the mark and wipe with a clean rag.

42. Also, if you should happen to wash and dry a tube of lipstick with a load of laundry (aren’t you just always doing that?), saturate the lipstick spots with WD-40 and rewash. Presto! The lipstick is gone.

And finally the one you all know:

43. If you sprayed WD-40 on the distributor cap, it would displace the moisture and allow the car to start.

The basic ingredient of WD-40 just happens to be FISH OIL.

 

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(By columnist Carol Midgley in The Times, 26.5.2012 – as ever, simply brilliant and totally spot-on)

You know you’re a spoilt, Western brat when tiny irritations manage to trash your day.

That when you buy new pencils, for instance, they’re flat at the end and require sharpening. What possible use is that? I wanted a pencil, not a problem. That petrol pumps take up to 15 seconds before dispensing fuel. Hello, Esso? Busy people here. That when you’re in Tesco loading up with food from across the globe, you can’t always get a mobile signal. Not a catastrophe, granted, but irksome if you need to ring home to check if you’ve run out of balsamic. And why do people still tittishly wear hands-free earpieces when they’re not on the phone? Not a problem, just annoying.

But here’s another tribulation that taints my otherwise pampered life. Why, when you’re watching a telly programme, do they start flagging up the next one before it has finished? That’s just rude. It’s like waiters putting chairs on tables and sweeping up while you’re still eating. When you’re immersed in a drama, you don’t want to see a banner announcing that Dickinson’s Real Deal is coming up next. It ruins the moment and is counter-productive, because it just makes you want to kick your telly’s face in.

Victoria Wood once told me (yes, I am name-dropping) that it annoys her when the credits at the end of a show are squeezed into a corner while they bang on about the next thing coming up. It’s not just that these are people’s jobs and that credits recognise the sound technicians; it also makes the viewer feel like they’re getting hassled by an extended-warranty salesman at Currys.

We’re absurdly lucky to have the best TV in the world. Can broadcasters just let us enjoy it, and not behave like a hustler chasing us down the street saying, “Looky, looky, nice watches pleez”? Because it cheapens all of us. Thanks.

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I can’t help being obsessive about grammar and punctuation. It’s my job to jump on random misplaced commas, errant full stops and ubiquitous exclamation marks. The poor old apostrophe, so maligned and mistreated, too often falls into the wrong hands – as can be seen here, brazenly on public view.

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Vernon Scannell

This was published in The Guardian in November 2007 and is a really beautiful piece of writing by the great Simon Jenkins, whose work I so much admire. I also like Vernon Scannell’s poetry, so that’s another good reason to share this piece.

A patient and sincere teacher … Vernon Scannell

By Simon Jenkins

The reference jumped from the page. Vernon Scannell, who has died at the age of 85, was a drifter, boxer and army deserter. He drank and fornicated his way across Fitzrovia (just north of the West End in London), said the obituary, until, “after a succession of jobs in the underbelly of teaching”, he emerged as a poet. Wait a minute, I thought. That underbelly of teaching was me.

Scannell’s path crossed with mine when I was 10 and he was desperate. The headmaster of the struggling prep school into which I had been decanted from the local primary must also have been desperate. Scannell had no degree or qualification. During the war he had been imprisoned for desertion. Afterwards he deserted again, changed his name and worked in a doll factory and as a fairground boxer. Finally court martialled, he was sent to a mental hospital after telling the judge that he was a poet who hated the folly of war and “feared the final extinction of humanity”. A kindly psychiatrist discharged him.

The school, which lay in the Kent countryside and was called Hazlewood, clearly had some wildness in its veins. It had employed both Christopher Fry and Michael Tippett. Boys would roam the adjacent woods during break and were often lost. The headmaster, an eccentric man named Parry, had reputedly insisted, during the Battle of Britain, that sports day continue as a gesture of support for the pilots overhead, despite parents running for shelter under a rain of shrapnel.

Scannell had just two messages to convey to the nervous, rebellious Jenkins, who felt as out of place in the school as he did. One was the supremacy of boxing and the other of poetry. Scannell’s first act was to ask the headmaster if he could erect a boxing ring in the assembly hall. Boys would duly line up, petrified, and only pretend to beat hell out of each other. But Scannell was a patient and sincere teacher of what he regarded as the “noble art”. We knew nothing of his past as a professional boxer, only noting the misty-eyed reverence with which he viewed our rectangular canvas of needless pain.

To Scannell, I now realise, it was only in the ring that he was able to lay aside the miseries of a poor upbringing and war-scarred life and, for a moment, be utterly himself. Only in the ring did a man literally stand or fall by his wits.

For a poet whose work was shot through with the fear and futility of violence, boxing was a strange addiction. But then nor did we know that Scannell was a poet. All he communicated was a vague and distant preoccupation, as of a man with much to hide and only a little to give, even if that little was infinitely precious. He was out of John le Carré.

I came to love the rituals and rhythms of boxing, as against the mindless and muddy brutalism of rugby. I was intoxicated by the terrified adrenalin of an upcoming fight and the exhilaration of surviving it. Nothing at school was quite its equal. Certainly I liked Scannell and went on boxing until I was 18, by when the health and safety mafiosi were moving into schools to ban it. Heaven only knows if learned from the sport, but I believed I did, and see no harm and much virtue in schoolboy boxing’s return to favour.

The classroom Scannell was a man transformed. He did not teach English, which presumably was his job. He simply read poetry from start to finish. He read the entire canon and made us read it back. We had to learn nothing by heart, but he did insist that we “recognise by heart” what he was reading. This rough diamond of a man would recite Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress when close to tears (from his memoirs I can perhaps tell why). If only we had known that he also wrote the stuff, wrote of a life without direction which, none the less, “Ran like a fuse/ And brought me to you/ And love’s bright, soundless detonation”.

Keats, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hardy, cascaded from the walls. In particular Scannell read the war poets, Owen, Brooke and Sassoon, with a feeling and a savagery that must have tested the headmaster’s patriotism (if he ever knew). Poetry must always tell a story, he said, but do so by employing meter, scansion and song. I do not recall Eliot or Pound or anything lacking rhyme and rhythm. My eyes used to wander through the windows to the trees outside, where they saw that poetry was supremely true to life. Its potency has frightened me ever since.

Scannell was under-recognised as a poet, though he was eventually awarded a civil list pension. It cannot have helped that he listed his Who’s Who hobbies as, besides drinking and boxing, “loathing Tories and New Labour”. His poems were always clear in meaning and strong in emotion. He was to poetry was Edward Burra was to painting, teetering on the boundary of the surreal but never quite crossing it. Every line expressed his passion, every verse his anger or melancholia.

Above all, Scannell wanted to give a generation that had no knowledge of world war “a poetry that would tell them more exactly and movingly than any film or history book” what it was to live and serve in one. He later wrote allusively of Guy Fawkes night as a moment of awful recollection: “I am to hear/ The banshee howl of mortar and the talk/ Of men who died, am forced to taste my fear”.

Scannell’s faith in the truthfulness of poetry over all other mediums was boundless. He was a true working poet, industrious, unsentimental and self-aware. He wrote that “No one is really interesting until /To love him has become no longer easy.” Hardy would have recognised him as a writer who “wishes to touch our hearts by showing his own.”

In the 1970s, Scannell accepted the ill-conceived appointment of “poet in residence” on the dreadful Oxford housing estate of Berinsfield. He called his memoir of the job A Proper Gentleman, as the pub-crawling rebel was converted into horrified upmarket victim of gangs of yobs shouting nightly obscenities at him: “Scannell, poet!” He wrote, “It was as if I were a member of a persecuted minority, a Jew in an antisemitic society, a black among racists.”

I did not know Scannell in later life, though we corresponded and he kindly sent me inscribed copies of his books. But I revelled in his verse. He was strong to the end and his glorious irony never left him. One of his last poems, Indian Summer, had him listening to Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung,

And yet more faintly, now and then is

heard,

Closer, underneath my hand,

Dry whisper of a turning page,

As I peruse, with awful delectation,

The Oxford Book of Death.

So remember, all you drifting, drinking, despairing, self-demeaning schoolmasters. Hidden at the back of your class, pretending to be sullen and resistent, is a boy in whose imagination lurks unknown a spark waiting to be blown to flame. Scannell was even better than a good poet. He could teach.

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(A condensed version of this feature was published in May 2012)

THE first swallow of the season swoops and skims over the glassy surface of the River Frome at Pallington Lakes, dipping its beak to refuel after the long flight up through Europe.

It is sighted and noted by Simon Gudgeon, who takes a proprietorial interest in all new arrivals on his 26 acres at Tincleton, six miles west of Dorchester. For the record, that swallow arrived on the 2nd April, sand martins on the 1st, and the first of the family, the house martins, on the 26th March. Nothing is missed, everything is appreciated and accorded due honour.

Here, deep in the Dorset countryside, with lakes, ponds and the river threading through the land, Simon and his wife Monique are happy hosts to 93 different types of bird – so far. More will surely come as the lakes, formerly a coarse fishery, continue their rehabilitation and complete their return to natural splendour.

The swooping barn owl, the statuesque bittern, the curve of a wing, the angle of a beak – all of this is not just food for the soul. In Simon’s case, the wildlife around him feeds his inspiration, too, for he is one of Britain’s foremost contemporary sculptors and his main subjects are birds.

He made his name as a wildlife sculptor, but in recent years he has moved away from smaller-scale animals to create monumental bird-forms to stand majestically in such spaces as Hyde Park and the sculpture trail at the National Museum of Wildlife Art of America, Wyoming. The birds, some figurative, some more abstract, some that reference myths and legends, others that combine with exotic flora, are displayed on home turf, too, where they draw visitors from every corner to the Gudgeons’ countryside park, Sculpture by the Lakes.

Simon is the only living sculptor to have had two works commissioned for display in Hyde Park. He sells throughout the world and he is represented by the Halcyon Gallery in London. In short, he has arrived. It may be a crowded scene, but he is at the very forefront of the stage.

It is all the more surprising, therefore, to discover that he has been making a living as a sculptor for only a relatively brief period. Thirteen years ago, at the age of 40, he picked up a piece of clay and turned his back on the ‘trial’ occupations he’d been engaged in, starting with law and continuing through commercial photography, landscape gardening and house-sitting.

After meeting Monique, also a successful career-changer – from London-based PR executive to fully trained plantswoman – he decided to pursue what he really wanted to do, which was to make things with clay.

He has never had a lesson. He is not from an artistic family. He just knew that when he had that lump of clay in his hands it felt good and he had the urge to turn it into something beautiful.

The astonishing result, with many of his pieces, large and small, now in the homes, gardens and grounds of private collectors, and with national and international acclaim regularly coming his way, may bring him satisfaction and reward but he is always striving for something more, different and, in his eyes, even better.

“I’ve got to keep moving forward and be challenged and inspired and excited,” Simon says. “I can’t stay ‘safe’. I believe that as an artist you have to paint or make things you are passionate about, and if you are not passionate then it’s futile.”

His aim is to create something skilful, beautiful and profound. “If you can achieve two out of those three, that’s good. All three is perfect,” he says.

The evidence of that pursuit of perfection is all around at Sculpture by the Lakes, its waterside setting surely unique among the country’s many sculpture parks and gardens. Simon’s sculpture, majestic within such a landscape, where Monique’s block planting is so thoughtful and so effective, moves the viewing of art into a totally different dimension, an experience that enthrals and excites. Sometimes a piece is glimpsed from a distance, perhaps through trees or tall grasses, the aspect changing until it is finally revealed, more beautiful even in its proximity and, sometimes, doubled in magnificence by its reflection in a lake.

Now that Pallington Lakes is no longer a fishery, visitors are able to spend as long as they wish, strolling and relaxing and picnicking. There are boats for crossing to an island where Eve and the Fallen Apples lie in wait, and many lakeside seats at different levels to allow appreciation of the sculpture from alternative angles – one seat, strikingly, made in wood by local furniture maker Simon Thomas Pirie, and another a two-man copper swing by Hampshire metal artist Steve Myburgh. It all adds up to what Simon wants it to be: “A place of reflection and quiet contemplation.” That is why no more than 30 pre-booked visitors are allowed at any time, and why children under 12 are not allowed. “An exhibition should be an experience, not a ‘viewing’,” Simon adds.

With head gardener Marcus Smith and the grounds maintenance team of Lin Hambidge, her partner Ian McLuckie and his son, apprentice Sam McLuckie, Simon and Monique have planted 2,000 trees and shrubs, among them a wood of 460 silver birches and large numbers of oaks and willow as well as a dozen rare black poplar. “This is a lovely spot,” Simon agrees, “but you are always driven. There are always changes to be made, a whole range of things to work on. You don’t get time to relax. It’s like art. Art is a creative imperative. You can’t not do it. The more ideas you have the more driven you become.”

The drive is propelling Simon down undiscovered roads, into painting – “big, juicy oils, playing with colour” – and abstract kinetic sculpture, which he plans to exhibit next year.

The restless creativity explodes in dramatic vignettes wherever you look. There’s a beautiful, productive vegetable garden in parterre style close to the house, a hen enclosure with a des-res henhouse, a hard-landscaped sitting area where two old dogs lie commemorated, a long, winding woven willow arch, hand-made by Monique, and the ‘wise walk’, an arcade with quotations and uplifting or amusing aphorisms carved into the paving. In fact, les mots justes abound, surprising with their appearance in a stone wall or in metalwork springing up from the edge of a lake. Shakespeare is of course represented, but the selection is extremely catholic and includes Kipling and Edgar Allen Poe.

All of this, even the newly dug ponds, has been created in just four years since Simon and Monique first set eyes on Pallington.

They’d been looking to move from their rented two-bedroom cottage south of Salisbury and close to the New Forest because Simon couldn’t cope any longer with working in an old Nissen hut. “I couldn’t make anything over seven feet in height,” he says. “It was restricting both physically and creatively.”

Online searching of properties for sale, focusing on houses with barns in Devon, suddenly threw a curve ball – PallingtonLakes in Dorset. As Simon wryly recalls, it failed to fulfil any of their requirements. “Scarily, it was also twice our budget, so as first-time buyers it was an altogether hopeless proposition.”

However, he and Monique were intrigued enough to view it – and the rest is history. Freed from the confines of the Nissen hut into two huge, high, studios, Simon’s sculpture has grown exponentially. He’s thinking big, making big and has big plans to match.

A first musical event at Sculpture by the Lakes last year has encouraged him to grow that side of the business, so that this summer there will be three, all on a large scale. Stretch marquees will accommodate the crowds but the hope is that balmy evenings will mean everyone can wander the candlelit paths and picnic by the lakes.

PallingtonLakes may have been Simon and Monique’s first house purchase, but it is also their last. They don’t plan to move on anywhere else. “We’ve chosen where we’re going to be buried – our Île des Morts,” says Simon, gesturing out across the 26 acres, where the flashes of kingfishers suddenly illuminate the lake’s edge.

• Find out more about Simon Gudgeon’s work and the musical events at http://www.sculpturebythelakes.co.uk and http://www.simongudgeon.com

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There were so many well-wishers and friends at the opening of The Valentine Gallery on 19th May 2012 that it was impossible to get through the crowds and take a better photo. This one shows Annabelle and her partner, Vlad.

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(Published December 2011)

BLANDFORD artist Annabelle Valentine swapped her oil-paints and brushes for tools of a different trade to transform a town centre shop into her own studio and art gallery.

Working alone, and often in difficult and dangerous conditions, Annabelle spent eight weeks carrying out a major facelift on the listed Georgian building at 45 Salisbury Street.

The Valentine Gallery will open next spring, but meanwhile Annabelle is painting in the light-flooded studio where the large ‘shop-front’ windows give passers-by a wonderful view of her working on her portrait commissions.

“It’s turned out to be a remarkably sociable way of life and so different from being shut away in the room I used at home, where I was completely on my own. Here, people wave as they walk by or call in for a chat or to ask about my work and commission me to paint for them. They find it fascinating to watch me work, and I’m lucky that I don’t find it all distracting. I can work while I talk. It’s a lovely way to make friends with strangers.”

Over the weeks, some of them would have grown used to the unlikely sight of a young woman high up on scaffolding, brandishing various tools, brushes and buckets of lime mortar. However, Annabelle says there were sometimes raised eyebrows when she emerged at the foot of the ladder. “I think people expected some burly builder to be doing the work,” she says.

Annabelle, who is also engaged in restoring her Georgian home in nearby Orchard Street, bought the former shop and cellar, with the freehold to the whole building, and knew that if she wanted the work of transforming the premises done within her budget and exactly as she wanted it, she would need to do it herself. “I’m a perfectionist,” she says. “I don’t cut corners, and I haven’t just slapped paint on. I’ve prepared every surface meticulously, learning how to do certain things where necessary as I’ve gone along.”

The toughest day was spent signwriting, hanging over next door’s roof in a howling gale.

After that experience, Annabelle admits “it’s easier to paint a portrait than a vertical line while hanging upside down.

“All the letters were sloping and I had to spend ages straightening them up. I also had to make two stencils as the first one turned to papier mâché in a torrential shower just before I had time to trace it out.”

She also suffered with lime burn thanks to a hole in her glove, and a lot of aching muscles.

The words ‘In loving memory of Daphne and John Valentine’ appear over the door. “Thoughts of my dear parents have helped me get through each day,” Annabelle says. “The purchase of this building was partly funded by an inheritance from them, so I really wanted it to be a project that they would be excited by. They were always so supportive of my art. To have dedicated this to them is a great motivator for me.”

Her mother, a writer and watercolourist, was a descendant of the eminent Victorian portrait and landscape painter John Linnell, and she taught Annabelle to draw at a young age. Like Linnell, Annabelle has made her name in portraiture and now a passion for the countryside – in her case, the glories of Dorset, which she loves – is encouraging her to extend her repertoire. The trees at Badbury Rings, in particular, have caught her fancy and she is making a season-by-season study of them.

“I started off in South Devon as a painter of trees,” she says. “I opened a tiny gallery in Chudleigh which I funded by working as a distributor of vegetable boxes for Riverford Organics.”

Her art training was at colleges in Portsmouth and Exeter and she loves the fact she continues to learn and developing her skills, not least those which are enabling her to turn the shabby old shop floor into a thing of beauty. For this she will be laying an area of new floor, using floorboards reclaimed from the former Blandford parish rooms.

The Valentine Gallery will officially open in 2012 in time for Dorset Art Weeks (26th May–10th June) with a new exhibition once the interior is completed.

The gallery will mostly display Annabelle’s own work, but she says she plans to be quite ambitious and tempt in some of her favourite and well-known artists from time to time.

Annabelle, who has allowed herself only two days off since July, says: “Although it has been well worth the effort, I am very glad that the bulk of the work is finished and I can now concentrate on all my art commissions which are on order for Christmas.”

See Annabelle’s paintings online at http://www.thevalentinegallery.co.uk

RS

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(Published April 2012)

 Rosie Staal meets John Were, innovator, entrepreneur and owner of an independent publishing house

BOOKS mean different things to different people. To some, they are for transient ownership, for distraction on a plane or train, for relaxing with on a deckchair, never mind if suncream and sand decorate the pages. For others, they are objects of desire and delight, to cherish, to excite the senses of sight, touch and smell, and, best of all, to be entertained by and to learn from.

To John Were, a graduate of English literature (Trinity College, Cambridge, 2000) books mean all of those things – but they also mean words in digital format, as eBooks, on Kindles and other e-readers. For much of his life, but especially for the past year, books both physical and digital have been John’s consuming and fabulous passion.

This is thanks to a life-changing move out of London to a rural home near Yeovil with his wife, Amelia, a GP in the town, which triggered a latent entrepreneurial streak. He has become that rare thing nowadays, an independent publisher. But because this is the 21st century, his company, Xelsion Publishing, has a twin focus – traditional book format side-by-side with innovative digital publishing.

There’s a twin focus to his working life, too, as the publishing venture is an offshoot of Xelsion (www.xelsion.com), his digital media company.

What to publish first was a decision that came easily: it was to be a manuscript written by a friend from university days, Will le Fleming.

“Will kept on almost getting published, but would fail at the final hurdle for some reason,” John says. “It was a shame because everyone who’d read this particular manuscript really rated it.”

There followed a long and very busy period through 2011 that could best be described as a roller-coaster ride of discovery as John learnt everything he could about the publishing industry, from front cover to back. Author Will played an important role, too, researching typefaces, coming up with cover designs and pitching in with ideas and support as the venture moved slowly forward.

Will also influenced the decision on whether the book should be a hardback or a paperback. “Books furnish a room,” he told John, firmly, and so Xelsion Publishing’s first book, and Will le Fleming’s first published novel, Central Reservation, is a hardback volume of impeccable standards with a high-quality feel about it.

John recognises his business venture was born partly out of what he calls “a naïve optimism,” but adds: “Without it we’d starve little and sleep better – but learn less.”

Now there’s another whole new world that he’s had to get grips with, because receiving the first consignment of books from the printers was only the start. There’s marketing, pushing for reviews in influential literary publications, the big launch in London, negotiating with Amazon, persuading booksellers to stock it (come on, Waterstones), making that critical decision about a repeat print run, getting the message out to book groups that they can have a discount – all those things and many, many more occupy John as the campaign goes on to get Central Reservation into more readers’ hands.

At the same time, John is busy expanding into e-publishing, using the internet for communicating with enthusiastic writers and readers, making the creation of a book a collaborative process whereby signed-up supporters on Will’s website (www.willlefleming.com) influence the way they’d like a plot or a character to develop between each instalment.

There’s serialisation of fiction, too, something that chimes so well with people’s bite-sized take on life nowadays. Serial-sized chunks of everything hold great appeal for people with time constraints and shorter attention spans.

To mark the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’s birth, Xelsion started on his birthday, February 7, publishing Great Expectations in its original serial format, but this time in a blog. Alongside the text each instalment has a brief synopsis of the story so far. Chapters are available to download as a Kindle blog. (Go to www.charlesdickens.xelsion.com to find out more.) The blog also has a piece by Will le Fleming on how Dickens has influenced his writing.

It is both interesting and remarkable that John has an interest in both sides of the current hot debate about the future of books and whether e-Books are taking over.

On one hand he’s an advocate of ‘furnishing rooms’ with real live books with all their expressive physical qualities, and on the other he’s happy to evangelise about e-ventures and the ease and comparative low cost of e-reading.

While the war of words continues, he’s content to push forward with both, his business head ensuring a measured progress. To this end, he’s already negotiated an option to publish Will le Fleming’s second novel, Perpetual Motion.

John’s willingness to take brave steps into the world of innovation and originality is perhaps not surprising, given his family background.

His father, as a new graduate, embarked confidently on a career in software programming as long ago as 1980 because he could see that business would become more reliant on computers. His prescience, of course, proved correct, and the rest is history.

But it is John’s grandfather who takes the prize as the family’s most unusual yet most dazzlingly unsuccessful entrepreneur.

John, who regrets never having met him, explains. “He had this idea to turn a couple of decommissioned World War II torpedo boats into cross-Channel craft. They could do 50 knots – it was quite mad.

“But it didn’t matter because it didn’t work, unsurprisingly, and he lost a lot of money. At this point he took the family, including my father, who can still remember it, on the Queen Mary to start a new life in Canada. They travelled out first-class and three months later they came back, second-class.”

As entrepreneurs go, John’s grandfather simply didn’t. He ended up selling ice-creams from a van at the foot of Haytor, on Dartmoor. But that desire to try and do something different and an insistence on taking entrepreneurial strides life from the left field has obviously influenced John – not least in his choice of location for his marriage proposal to Amelia. It was, of course, Haytor.

Summarising his attitude to business life, John says: “There is always a smarter way of doing things and constant effort should be made to get smarter every step of the way. It takes a lot of time, but the idea is if you do it long enough you start moving slightly faster than everyone else – and if you keep doing it you stay ahead.”

A good read on many levels

AUTHOR Will le Fleming’s first book is a lot of things: a ghost story, a tale of emotions stripped raw, a commentary on rural life as it is exposed to the barest bones of survival. But first and foremost it is a great read quite beautifully written by someone clearly at ease with words and the complexities of language and its rules.

In such safe hands, no reader could fail to be beguiled by such superbly skilful story-telling.

Central Reservation is set during the foot-and-mouth epidemic of 2001 when rural communities suffered so terribly and the gap between town and country widened to a chasm. Within this context, 13-year-old Holly must come to terms with a future without her twin sister, growing up on her mother’s farm where the stench of death lingers and where nothing can ever be the same again.

Will le Fleming knows about the countryside, having been brought up on a farm in the West Country. Although only in his mid-30s, he has led a colourful life so far, working as a stringer in Ecuador, a croupier in New Zealand and a sword-fighter at the Tower of London. He has also shot arrows and wrestled for money, and worked as a paid impersonator of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He’s now settled in London, writing and teaching English.

RS

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